There is only one way to fully understand the Upper West Side—by strolling the sidewalks with Upper West Siders. Take a moment to watch the residents stream by: businesspeople hurry to work or run errands in suits and white sneakers; multicultural bands of children engage in horseplay on their way to school; mothers pushing strollers walk peacefully alongside men upon whose shoulders ride toddlers; impeccably dressed families walk together to temple, to church, to the movies; old men walk even older dogs; and skaters weave between pedestrians and parked cars. And amid it all: the comforting hum of many languages and cultures in harmony.
The area sprouts northwest along the main artery of Broadway from Columbus Circle at 59th Street, where the chaotic intersections of the western avenues gradually give way to the calm edges and vibrant center of the neighborhood. (This also home to the Shops at Columbus Circle at Time Warner Center, a collection of high-end stores, exhibits, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Architecture buffs will want to stroll along Central Park West, West End Avenue, and Riverside Drive to take in the large, ornate apartment buildings. The quiet, residential avenues form the outer rim of the neighborhood. Venture down some of the cross streets, and you will find the lovely brownstones and townhouses that make up much of the landscape.
On Central Park West and 72nd Street is the Dakota, a beautiful apartment building where some of New York’s most famous residents have lived. Its best-known tenant was John Lennon, who is immortalized across the street in Central Park's Strawberry Fields.
Find your way to Broadway and you soon arrive at Lincoln Center. As you face the fountain from Broadway, to your left is the New York State Theater, home to the New York City Ballet. Back beyond the fountain is the Metropolitan Opera House, through whose windows you can see the Marc Chagall paintings and is where the Metropolitan Opera and American Ballet Theatre perform. To your right is the New York Philharmonic's home, Avery Fisher Hall.
For those who want to visit museums, the Upper West Side is a treasure, covering the full spectrum of genres. Spend some time in the New-York Historical Society, the Children's Museum of Manhattan, the American Folk Art Museum, or the American Museum of Natural History.
Pack up a picnic lunch and head west to Riverside Park along the Hudson River. The promenade begins at 80th Street, wide enough for the throngs of strollers, dog-walkers, and inline skaters who take advantage of the cool river breeze. Docked at the 79th Street Boat Basin are the houseboats, motorboats, and yachts on which New Yorkers live and play.
There's also the glitzy restaurant-and-boutique strip along Columbus Avenue and the mix of bodegas, bars and boutiques along Amsterdam Avenue. Even farther north is Columbia University, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (the largest cathedral in the world), Grant's Tomb, Riverside Church, and the Cloisters.
Dining on the Upper West Side: For our list of the best places to eat on the Upper West Side, click here.
Shopping on the Upper West Side quick links: Century 21 Department Store; GreenFlea Indoor/Outdoor Markets.
Museums on the Upper West Side quick links: American Museum of Natural History; New-York Historical Society.
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Main page photo credit: By Nils Olander from Panoramio (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons